What is a Career Path, and Does My Shop Need One?

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Creating a career path for your shop is a win-win situation for you and your techs.

We’ve talked about shop morale and attracting good technicians before, but once you’ve landed these people, how do you persuade them to stay? By laying out a clear career path – or several paths – that they can follow to make sure they’re gaining new responsibilities and, yes, raises over the years.

Career paths, or official ones, are a fairly new concept to a lot of shop owners. To help you get your hands around it, we sat down with Jay Goninen, Founder and CEO of WrenchWay and Find A Wrench, as well as Sara Kerwin, Director of Marketing at Find A Wrench, to discuss the basics of a career path, why you need one, and how you can put one together for your shop.

WHAT IS A CAREER PATH?

A career path is the route a tech can take to more responsibilities, promotions, and raises. Career pathing has become kind of a big deal in the white-collar world over the last couple of decades. It may have existed in an informal capacity at repair shops for some time, as well, but as a formal concept it’s new to a lot of owners.

Generally speaking, a career path is written out and contains all the steps a tech needs to take to receive raises and promotions. It may have forks in the road for the tech who wants to become a master diagnostician vs. a service manager. It shows a tech exactly what they need to accomplish to reach the next level.

More and more repair shops are grappling with career pathing due to the tech shortage. As techs get older and retire, they’re going to be replaced with millennials and Gen-Z. Forty-five percent of millennials said that having a career development plan in place was extremely important to them. They actively look for places that have established career pathing – or they want owners to be open to it. Since these younger techs will be replacing the retiring generation, more and more owners have realized that yes, they do need some kind of career path for their people.

But Fullbay, you may be saying, I don’t know if my techs are going to be good managers.

Maybe they won’t be. You may have a tech who loves working on trucks and never wants to do anything else. That’s great! A career path can still make sure that tech gets the proper raises and recognition for a job well done. You don’t have to pull them out of a role they’re good at and shove them into another one. You’re just providing the opportunity for growth and change over time.

A career path doesn’t just benefit your techs, either. It also benefits your shop. Let’s get into why.

WHY SHOULD YOUR SHOP HAVE A CAREER PATH?

You should implement a career path in your shop if you want to keep people.

“There was no real thinking of career paths for technicians until you couldn’t find technicians,” Jay explains. Shops began putting together packages to attract techs, and techs as a whole (particularly those younger techs) began to realize they had a little more negotiating power than they had before. Thus, career pathing became a way to attract top talent to a shop.

Good technicians want to know they have opportunities for advancement. We don’t want to pin things on millennials, but we don’t think they’ll mind this: millennials know to push for things.

Unfortunately, a lot of shop owners have turned up their noses at the idea of a career path. Those closest to retirement have proven the toughest nuts to crack; their rationale is that they’re getting out of the business soon anyway, so why spend time and money building out something they deem unnecessary?

We get it. When you’ve done things a certain way for 30+ years, it’s hard to change. So let’s phrase it another way. Building a career path means looking toward the future – not just tomorrow or next month, but years out.

HOW TO CREATE A CAREER PATH

Much has been written about creating career paths and how you can implement them in your shop. We’re going to take a slightly different tack and focus on some of the background thought that goes into determining a path and then deploying it.

As we see it, there are six steps you need to take before rolling out that path.

1. Start with your own vision. The key to any career path is communication and transparency – with yourself and with your staff. What do you want the company to look like in three or five years? How many customers, what roles, how much revenue? How many techs will you need to handle that business? How many managers will need to oversee those techs? The more you can lay out, the more you can show the tech. It’s a top-down process.

2. Get buy-in from others. Take your vision to your team. You may already have some idea of who you’d promote from within your existing ranks; someone who has displayed leadership qualities, for example, or who has come to you inquiring about ways to move up. If you’re a smaller shop, start out by painting a clear vision for the tech in question. Jay urges shop owners to be upfront, saying something like, “The shop may not look the same in a few years as it does now. But if you help me grow it, there’s a place for you.”

This does, of course, require you to answer the age-old question of who you should promote. Look over your techs. Who shows up early and always gets their work done? Who among them is the best communicator?

Actually, let’s talk about communication.

3. Emphasize communication. We’ve seen it happen in every industry out there. Someone who is absolutely awesome at their job is promoted into a leadership role and they are…well, they’re not good at it. However outstanding they may have been in their prior position, they’re useless when it comes to managing people.

Let us be blunt: 99% of the time this isn’t their fault. Management draws on and requires an entirely separate skill set, one based around communication instead of performing repairs. A lot of techs aren’t able to push their skills into management because they just don’t have the communication skills.

But 99% of the time, skills can be learned. This brings us to our next point.

4. Provide training and encourage lifelong learning. No one springs into a fully-formed manager or master technician. It takes years of training and practice. In some cases, managers never receive proper training, which hurts them and the people they manage. If they have everything else, it may be on you, the owner, to help them brush up on their skills. Can you get them additional training? How about online classes, or even books about leadership?

Bear in mind that you’re limited in how much you can encourage your techs to learn during their working hours because their job is literally based around how many hours they work. But learning doesn’t just happen at work. Encourage your techs to learn on their own, and the shop will guide them along the way.

5. Make it possible to specialize. Not everyone wants to be a manager! Don’t forget to reward the people who are excellent technicians and want to stay in that role. Say you’ve got a guy who wants to be a diagnostic specialist. Ask yourself how you can help this tech build their foundation.

6. Set goalposts. This is an essential part of career pathing, so why is it at the end? Because actually writing it all down and crafting the path needs to come after you understand the importance of communication and buy-in. Define the goals you want your technicians to reach as they move up along the ladder, and set a timeline for them to hit those goals. That’s an entire article unto itself, and fortunately, Jay has already written a wonderful piece about it for WrenchWay.

KEEP ON BUILDING

If you’ve been ignoring the need for a career path in your shop – or just haven’t thought about it – you really aren’t alone. Lots of other repair shop owners are struggling with the same thing. We’ll repeat ourselves a bit: good communication goes a long way. Talk to your staff. Share your ideas and thoughts with them and get their buy-in. Not every career path will look the same for every technician – and that’s a good thing!

The more room you provide for them to grow, the more opportunity you create for your shop. Keep that in mind and you can’t go wrong.

Suz Baldwin

About Suz Baldwin

Suz Baldwin got her start in the automotive industry, writing and editing for several motorcycle and classic car magazines straight out of college. In the years that followed, she’s written all sorts of copy for brands big and small while consuming enough coffee to paralyze a dinosaur.

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